Issue 318 - Looking Backward

May 2024

Over the course of a lifetime, you acquire a lot of stuff.

Trying to reduce the amount of stuff in our home, we have been going through old files and boxes.

Today we reflect on what we have found, and on what we have learned.

Fragments of Life

Sorting through old files, I find fragments of my life:

-         A yellowed newspaper clipping shows a picture of a man in a clerical collar. “I know him,” is my immediate thought, but I cannot place him. Unfolding the paper, I find my picture in the article as well. Gary was an Episcopal priest; he and I served as interim ministers at the same time in neighboring congregations in Rhode Island. The local paper thought it newsworthy.

-         An official document from Trenton State Prison, issued in 1975, granting me the right to escort John, who was serving a life sentence for murder, on a four-hour leave from the prison, so he could speak to a Quaker meeting.

-         The obituary for Alfred, who died in 1993. I had forgotten his name, but had never forgotten Alfred, an odd old man who rode his bicycle everywhere – even in his eighties, even in New England winters! Alfred lived alone, raised prize-winning gladioli, and had visited and photographed every covered bridge in the state of Ohio. I conducted Alfred’s funeral.

-         A postcard from a seminary student, written in 1985, thanking me for my helpful critique of her sermon, even though the grade I had given was lower than she had hoped.

-         The invitation to attend a theological conference in East Berlin in 1989. I remember being there, just months before the Berlin Wall fell.

In old files, I find fragments of my life. Is there a pattern here? I sometimes wonder.

I take comfort in what Marilynne Robinson writes about the patriarchs of Israel: “God intrudes invisibly on these bronze age lives.”* God’s providence is often invisible; the pattern of a life difficult to discern. Yet I trust that all these fragments, like the seemingly random fragments of stone in a mosaic, form a meaningful and beautiful picture.

--by Bill

*Reading Genesis, p. 112.

More Than Just Interesting

Sorting through old files, records, documents, and photos, I ran across a spiral bound book of my paternal grandmother’s ancestors: The Noe / Noey / Noah Family. I was surprised to find it. Although we have other bound books of both sides of my families from centuries back, this book was new to me. It was interesting to read of our colonial South Carolina families’ involvement, for instance, in the Regulator Movement and the Battle of Alamance, leading to the First Battle of the American Revolution.

I remember my grandmother talking about her Grandma Noah (“Know-wee”). When I found her family history book, I facetiously laughed out loud to myself: “I knew we were old! We go back to the ark and the flood!”

There is a certain sense of knowing one’s heritage. It is a sense of belonging. A sense of rootedness in society.

This sense of belonging is more than just interesting. It relates who we are – and who we aren’t. I came to realize this years ago when I started studying theology. One of my professors said, “The more we know about a person, the more we can love that person.” That certainly applied in my growing knowledge of Jesus. The more we know, the more we can bind our hearts with the loving heart of Jesus. It is a sense of rootedness in blessed creation and belonging as a child of God. It is more than just interesting; it defines who we are.


Take time for quiet, meditative prayer with the video below

Link to "O Lord, Hear My Prayer"

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